Monday, December 28, 2009

"Anything else you worship will eat you alive"

Just one of those days when I remember something in the shower, and feel compelled to write about it.

Exhibit A:

The Mukunda Mala is a fantastic poem in praise of Lord Krishna. The author, Kulashekhara Azhwar, is one of the 12 canonical Azhwars. The poem is notable not just for the evident devotional meaning, but also for little 'easter eggs' of grammar, meter and figure of speech in every nook and corner. Here's one of my favourite verses from there:

नाथे न: पुरुषोत्तमे त्रिजगताम् एकाधिपे चेतसा
सेव्ये स्वस्य-पदस्य दातरि परे नारायणे तिष्ठति |
यम् कन्चिद् पुरुषाधमम् कतिपय-ग्रामेशम् अल्पार्थदम्
सेवायै मृगयामहे नरम् अहो! मूढा वराका वयम्! ||

naathe na: puruShottame trijagataam ekaadhipe chetasaa
sevye svasya-padasya-daatari pare naaraayaNe tiShThati |
yam kanchid puruShaadhamam katipaya-graamesham alpaarthadam
sevaayai mRRigayaamahe naram aho! muuDhaa varaakaa vayam! ||

(This is from Shreevatsa's excellent Sanskrit transliterator page. The really nice part is how all the standard schemes are right in one place, and updated in realtime. Very easy to fix errors and type quickly)

The broad meaning, deliberately translated to be very general, literal and simplistic, is:

"Our refuge, the best of those filled with life, the overseer of everything, he who is very easily accessible by the heart, the granter of great bliss, is sitting right in sight. And yet, we struggle hard to seek and serve some silly king, who at most can throw us some money - surely, we are fools!"

The tone is hard to translate, but I think it is a self-critical ruing, though not in pathetic sense. It almost becomes exhortative in the choice of words near the end ('to seek to serve' - sevaayai mrigayaamahe). The censoring is about choosing the 'right' thing to struggle for.

Exhibit B:

David Foster Wallace's absolutely fantastic commencement speech at Kenyon College, about leading a compassionate life:

Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship – be it JC or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles – is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things – if they are where you tap real meaning in life – then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already – it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness. Worship power – you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart – you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

(The speech is really amazing, and worth every minute of your time.)

Exhibit C:

Russell's brilliant essay, 'On Youthful Cynicism', for other commonly glorified things that will also eat you alive. The parts about Progress, Beauty and Truth are particularly amazing. The introduction of the idea of 'comfort without power' being a cause for unhappiness made me look around in my head to make sure ol' Bertie wasn't peering into my head with a time-traveling legilimens spell.

Exhibit D:

[oˆ Mukund] In Africa they won’t feel lonesome tonight - Very nice article, contrasting the individualism of the West with the more communal environment of Africa. It is written with a positive bias towards Africa, but the points it raises are still valid.


A joke about God goes thus - 'Devaru iddana?' 'DevaraaNegu illa' ( 'Does God exist?' - 'I swear to God, No.').


1 comment:

Varun Narasimhachar said...

dEvara mEl aaNe iTTu suLL hELida phala --- dEvaru illa!